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Speaking of Energy

Guest Opinion: Carbon: The Basics

Surviving tough economic news

Co-op Postcard: Students of Frankfort


Speaking of Energy
A series of three Energizing Kentucky conferences, aimed at discussing a state energy policy, begins this month.

The June 3-4 meeting in downtown Louisville will focus on the role of Kentucky’s business community in energy policy. Participants will include Robert Marshall, president & CEO of East Kentucky Power Co-op based in Winchester; Leonard Peters, secretary, Energy and Environment Cabinet; and Tom Fitzgerald, director, Kentucky Resource Council.

A second conference centering on state and local government is planned for September 18-19, also in Louisville. The keynote speaker for that conference will be columnist Thomas Friedman, author of The World is Flat and the upcoming Green is the New Red, White, and Blue.

A third conference has not yet been scheduled, but is planned to center on developing a school curriculum on energy.

The Energizing Kentucky effort was announced this spring by the presidents of four Kentucky colleges and universities: the University of Kentucky, the University of Louisville, Berea College, and Centre College.

More information is available on the Internet at www.energizingkentucky.org. For information on registering to attend one of the conferences, e-mail Milton Reigelman at Centre College, Milton.reigelman@centre.edu.

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Guest opinion
Carbon: The Basics

by Scott Gates

Carbon, the basic building block of life on Earth, has recently become a celebrity of sorts. While most students receive a formal introduction to carbon in science class, those of us who missed out on (or have forgotten) the lessons can find a quick summary in the following sentences, starting with a couple from the American Heritage Science Dictionary:

Car­•bon (noun): A naturally abundant, non-metallic element that occurs in all organic compounds and can be found in all known forms of life. Diamonds and graphite are pure forms.

Concentrated carbon also makes up the fossil fuels we use to produce approximately 70 percent of our nation’s electricity (primarily coal and natural gas). When those products are burned, carbon combines with oxygen and gets released into the atmosphere as carbon dioxide.

For better or worse, carbon dioxide molecules can last for a century or more in the atmosphere, where they soak up heat. Prior to the Industrial Revolution, the atmosphere contained 280 parts per million. Atmospheric levels of carbon dioxide are currently at 390 parts per million and climbing, with some projections estimating 450 parts per million by 2040. Carbon dioxide is considered a “greenhouse gas” blamed for contributing to climate change.

In the United States, power plants that burn fossil fuels produce about 2.4 billion tons of carbon dioxide every year, which is about 39 percent of the nation’s man-made output (the largest single source).

There are several ways to reduce the amount of carbon dioxide in the air, some of which take place naturally. Forests, for example, act as a sponge for 15 percent of all carbon emissions in North America. Researchers are even working to develop “synthetic trees” that use absorbent filters to capture carbon dioxide from the air and prepare it for commercial use or permanent storage deep underground.

Another process is called “carbon capture and sequestration,” through which carbon dioxide can be isolated, or captured, in an advanced coal power plant and stored underground (for a detailed report on carbon capture, see The Future of Electricity column, “The quest to capture greenhouse gases and bury them,” in the April Kentucky Living). When the technology becomes available on a commercial scale, the result could be huge reductions in the amount of carbon dioxide that is released into the atmosphere.

Technology holds the key to tackling challenges connected to climate change. Kentucky’s electric cooperatives will play an active role in this effort.

Scott Gates writes on technology and energy efficiency for the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association, the Arlington, Va.-based service arm of the nation’s 900-plus consumer-owned, not-for-profit electric cooperatives.

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Surviving tough economic news
There has been dire economic news lately, and some people might be worried. They may be wondering how they can protect their personal finances from a bleak economic forecast.

First, keep what you hear in perspective, says Suzanne Badenhop, University of Kentucky Cooperative Extension specialist for financial management.

“If you hear on the news that the Dow Jones Industrial Average went down 400 points today, keep in mind that’s a weighted average of 30 stocks that represent the industrial economy,” she says. “That doesn’t mean every stock went down that day. And certainly, if the stocks have gone down, you know they’ll bounce back a little bit because people realize the price is low and will start buying them.”

Badenhop advises not to run out and sell your stocks because of a story on the evening news. Investing is a long-term venture.

“Since they began keeping records around 1920, the stock market has done nothing but go up,” she says. “It does experience some bumps, but events such as the Great Depression, World War II, the Korean War, Vietnam, 9/11 caused a dip for a short time, but then the market went back up. The proven history of investing is that you continue to earn.”

Some might be wondering how Bear Stearns’ brush with bankruptcy this spring will affect their investments. Bear Stearns is an investment bank and, unlike a savings bank, it is not chartered to do business with individuals. Instead, an investment bank’s clients are companies. Unless an individual owns stock in Bear Stearns, they should feel no impact, Badenhop says.

The key to successful investing is twofold: diversification and long-term, Badenhop says.

“If you don’t have time to watch on a daily basis, then invest in mutual funds. Someone else is watching the investment conditions and issues. The mutual fund manager has a goal to do well to keep your money increasing in value. Investing is a long-term venture,” she says.

For those who have money tied up in homes, the housing market is of particular interest lately. There has been a rash of foreclosures due to the high number of adjustable rate subprime loans that were made. People who previously might not have been able to afford a home, suddenly found themselves in a position to buy one. However, once the interest rates adjusted upward, many of them found they were no longer able to meet their monthly payments.

If you find yourself in such a position, Badenhop recommends shopping around for a new mortgage with a fixed interest rate. Due to the U.S. Federal Reserve dropping the prime rate recently, Badenhop thinks people could find some bargains on interest rates.

But if refinancing isn’t an option, and you lose your house due to foreclosure, it’s not the end of the road. It will take seven years to improve your credit rating, but with careful money management, it can improve. In the meantime, Badenhop recommends finding affordable housing and building up your savings to get enough for a down payment.

“Every family should plan their finances so that they have an emergency fund, typically six months of your income,” she says.

This may sound unreachable to some people, but she advises taking one step at a time. The first step to saving is to reduce your debt-to-income ratio. Revolving credit card debt should be less than 20 percent of take-home pay.

“That’s hard for some people to understand,” she says, “but when you’re not paying interest to somebody, that’s money that’s not going out of your pocket.”

And cut back where you can. Keep a financial diary. Writing down every expenditure helps to illustrate how much money flies out the window on nonessential purchases.

Having a family financial plan can be a learning experience for everyone, Badenhop says, and in the long run, it will result in having more money and less stress.

— Carol L. Spence, UK Extension

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Co-op Postcard: Students of Frankfort

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